Georgia voters to be made ‘inactive’ after absentee mail undeliverable

August 11, 2020 Atlanta: Some 70 Fulton County Registration & Election Board workers handled some 20,000 absentee ballots on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at State Farm Arena located at 1 State Farm Drive in Atlanta. A heated race for Fulton County district attorney saw a light turnout at the polls on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. Incumbent Paul Howard faces his former chief deputy, Fani Willis, in a closely watched contest to become the county’s top prosecutor. Election officials said they learned lessons from the June 9 primary to avoid the kind of extreme lines that some voters encountered last time. Poll workers have been retrained. Technicians were on hand at every voting location in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Voting machines were delivered well in advance of election day. Still, some voters experienced problems and long waits at the polls. Nearly 377,000 Georgians already voted in advance of election day, most of them casting absentee ballots. About 60% of early votes were absentee; the rest were cast in person during three weeks of early voting. With so many voters using absentee ballots, election results might be slow to come in Tuesday night. Absentee ballots will be counted if they’re received by county election officials before 7 p.m., but each ballot has to be fed through a scanner to be counted, a process that can take days. Election officials say it’s normal for absentee vote-counting to take some time. But that means close races might not be settled on election night. The winners of Tuesday’s runoffs will advance to the general election in November, when turnout is expected to break records and exceed 5 million voters. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
August 11, 2020 Atlanta: Some 70 Fulton County Registration & Election Board workers handled some 20,000 absentee ballots on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at State Farm Arena located at 1 State Farm Drive in Atlanta. A heated race for Fulton County district attorney saw a light turnout at the polls on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. Incumbent Paul Howard faces his former chief deputy, Fani Willis, in a closely watched contest to become the county’s top prosecutor. Election officials said they learned lessons from the June 9 primary to avoid the kind of extreme lines that some voters encountered last time. Poll workers have been retrained. Technicians were on hand at every voting location in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Voting machines were delivered well in advance of election day. Still, some voters experienced problems and long waits at the polls. Nearly 377,000 Georgians already voted in advance of election day, most of them casting absentee ballots. About 60% of early votes were absentee; the rest were cast in person during three weeks of early voting. With so many voters using absentee ballots, election results might be slow to come in Tuesday night. Absentee ballots will be counted if they’re received by county election officials before 7 p.m., but each ballot has to be fed through a scanner to be counted, a process that can take days. Election officials say it’s normal for absentee vote-counting to take some time. But that means close races might not be settled on election night. The winners of Tuesday’s runoffs will advance to the general election in November, when turnout is expected to break records and exceed 5 million voters. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Tens of thousands of Georgia voter registrations are on track to be changed to inactive status because absentee ballot applications mailed to them in the spring were undeliverable.

These voters will still be able to vote in November’s presidential election, but moving them to inactive status is a step toward canceling their registrations.

County election officials mailed letters to voters in July whose absentee ballot applications couldn’t be delivered, often because they might have moved, their mailing addresses were incorrect or the U.S. Postal Service made a mistake.

Voters who respond to those letters within 30 days will retain their active status, but many voters won’t receive the letters because they were mailed to the same addresses where they were undeliverable in the spring.

The secretary of state’s office said Tuesday that it didn’t have a count of how many Georgia voters could become inactive because some election offices haven’t yet provided returned mail information. Gwinnett County alone sent letters to over 20,000 voters in late July.

The Democratic Party of Georgia recently warned the secretary of state’s office that it believes the process of making so many voters inactive so soon before a presidential election violates federal voting laws.

“It may make you believe you’re no longer eligible to vote in the presidential election,” said Matt Weiss, an attorney for the Democratic Party. “Why does this need to happen right now, before a major federal election? Anything that’s going to increase confusion among voters should be avoided.”

But election officials say undeliverable mail is a strong indication that voters no longer live at their registered addresses and should only be allowed to vote where they currently live.

The state is required to maintain accurate voter lists, and voters are regularly moved to inactive status. Then the secretary of state’s office cancels inactive voter registrations every other year, in odd-numbered years.

This round of making voters inactive was triggered by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to send absentee ballot applications to 6.9 million active voters in April.

State Elections Director Chris Harvey sent a memo to county election officials in July saying state law requires them to send notices to voters whose absentee ballot applications were returned undeliverable by the Postal Service.

“The intention is to try to keep the voter rolls accurate,” said Kristi Royston, the elections supervisor in Gwinnett County. “It’s not that an inactive voter cannot vote. Any action the voter takes while on the inactive roll will move them back to active.”

Details about how many Georgia voters’ mail was undeliverable will be compiled in the coming weeks.

“Before we release information like that, we want to assure it is correct,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “Many counties are still certifying their elections, and their data staff are focused on that.”

The Democratic Party said federal law should prevent the process of making these voters inactive this year. The National Voter Registration Act requires states to complete any program with the purpose of systemically canceling voter registrations at least 90 days before a federal election. The Nov. 3 presidential election is less than 80 days away.

Whether the NVRA prohibits making voters inactive in this way is an unresolved legal question, said Myrna Pérez, the director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

“It’s certainly not a preferred practice, and the opportunities for confusion and adding to the work of elections administrators makes this an imprudent decision,” Pérez said.

Mail might be undeliverable even when a voter hasn’t moved and remains an eligible voter, she said. For example, there might be a typo in an address, or she’s seen reports of postal workers not delivering mail because of a dog in the yard.

Becoming an inactive voter starts the process of being removed from Georgia’s voter rolls.

Voters can be deemed inactive if their mail is returned, they complete a change-of-address form, or they don’t contact election officials or vote for five years. Their registrations are then removed if they miss the next two federal general elections.

In December, state election officials canceled 287,000 voter registrations. There are now over 7.4 million people registered to vote in Georgia.

Check your voter registration

Georgia residents can sign up to vote online, at county election offices or when they get their driver’s licenses.

Anyone can find out whether they’re registered to vote by visiting the My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

New voters can register to vote for the presidential election until the state’s voter registration deadline Oct. 5.